HomeNewsBriefChile Facing Human Trafficking Influx from China

Chilean officials conspired to bring hundreds of Chinese migrants into the country illegally, leaving the country to face its largest-ever human trafficking ring and scrambling for a response.

In late May, Chile charged 11 people for bringing at least 381 Chinese citizens into the country illegally. These charges revealed the existence of a sophisticated human trafficking ring in place since 2016. Government officials implicated in the ring included Alex Brito, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Patricio Trigo, former governor of Choapa state; and Mauricio Navarro, ex-mayor of the city of Los Andes, near Valparaíso.

Along with a number of associates in China, this ring sent fraudulent invitation letters, complete with fake signatures from Chilean mayors and governors, to the Asian country. These were then used to pass off migrants as tourists or businesspeople, allowing them to enter Chile freely.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking

The operation to bring down this ring had been in place since mid-2018. It found that the Chilean officials involved received $4,900 for each migrant, with the total amount sent from China totaling over $1.1 million.

While the officials involved have been arrested, the Chinese migrants have received fair treatment. Chile has legalized or is in the process of legalizing the resident status of 203 of the migrants, while 178 have crossed into Argentina legally. Some have reportedly already found work among the Chinese community in Chile.

In recent years, Chile has been a destination of choice for migrants from around the world, especially Venezuela and Haiti, with 1 percent of the Caribbean nation’s population now reportedly in Chile.

In April 2018, President Sebastian Piñera launched a campaign to legalize 300,000 migrants in the country. Since this campaign finished, however, deportations have begun in earnest.

InSight Crime Analysis

Being one of Latin America’s wealthier and more peaceful countries, coupled with its traditional welcoming of migrants, has made Chile a prime target for human traffickers.

Reports from across the region show that the Chinese migrants are fleeing extreme poverty. Despite China’s much-touted record at reducing poverty, rising unemployment and worsening economic prospects are forcing some to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

In recent years, Chile has also become one of China’s foremost partners in the region. As the first South American country to sign a free-trade deal with China, it has become a major port of entry for Chinese goods and numerous Chinese companies have presence there. This makes it a natural destination for Chinese migrants.

In recent years, however, Chile has made significant progress in combatting human trafficking. The overwhelming majority of illegal migrants in Chile come from Latin America but the country has strengthened anti-trafficking measures overall, rating it a Tier One ranking in the US Trafficking in Persons Report.

SEE ALSO: Human Trafficking of Chinese Citizens is Big Business for Argentina

But the trafficking of Chinese citizens into Latin America is nothing new. A 2016 report estimated that 80 percent of Argentina’s Chinese population had entered the country illegally, often through land borders with Brazil, Chile and Bolivia.

And a two-year investigation which ended in November 2018 saw the dismantling of a human trafficking ring which took Chinese citizens to Costa Rica and Panama through South America, where they were either smuggled to the United States or Canada or “sold” into cheap labor jobs.

The US government’s Trafficking in Persons 2018 Report estimates that Chinese people are subjected to forced labor in at least 57 countries worldwide.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


A network which sexually trafficked Colombian and Venezuelan women to the Dominican Republic has been dismantled.

BOLIVIA / 29 APR 2022

A string of drug seizures in Chile, coupled with cocaine discovered on ships originating there, points to the country emerging…

CHILE / 23 JUN 2022

Ketamine has become all but the most popular synthetic drug in Chile, as traffickers are increasingly marketing ketamine to buyers…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…